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COLUMBIA - NASA Astronaut Sandra Magnus spoke at Benton Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Elementary Thursday. Benton STEM was Dr. Magnus' first stop on a two-day speaking tour in Columbia. 

Organizers brought Magnus to Columbia specifically to speak with students following the success of the Columbia FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Team this year in national competition.  

The high school team was named Rookie of the Year for 2011, and now, with Benton officially opening as a STEM school this fall, elementary students will get the chance to participate in the FIRST Lego Team competition, designed for young students. 

According to Benton principal Troy Hogg, the school's transition to the curriculum and facilities of a STEM school has gone well this fall. 

The principal said the school's new motto, "Learning Through Discovery," goes hand in hand with what kids are doing in the classroom each day. 

The school has iPads that students use on a regular basis, lab materials donated from the University of Missouri, daily engineering curriculum, Quest (Quality Elementary Science Teaching) certified teachers, and new partnerships with the university and the Columbia Area Career Center, all to expose students to STEM careers. 

They even have a new club where 4th and 5th grade students have been working on creating video games. 

This visit from a true NASA astronaut is just the type of thing educators at Benton want their students to see. 

"You want to encourage kids to follow their dreams and give them an example of the fact that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to," Magnus said.  

FIRST competition coordinators are looking for sponsors to help pay the cost of Columbia students' participation in the competition.  To get more information on sponsoring or mentoring a student, click here.

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